Social Media – Not the Internet and Vice-Versa

At last week’s PRWeek Global Conference, there appeared to be some confusion between digital strategy and online management and use of social media.

Reporting on the conference, PRWeek itself quoted one Mark Adams, co-founder and partner, The Conversation Group, as saying “Most firms use avoidance strategies or lip-service strategies. ‘Let’s get some monkey in the basement to run a Twitter account and then we’ll review it in a year’s time.’ It’s not uncommon.”

This seems to be at odds with another of the speakers, Dominic Chambers, who said digital strategy was ‘too low down in companies’ and that ‘online management often continued to sit within a client’s IT department’. I’m not going to continue quoting from the article – you can find it yourselves here.

I suppose they’re both valid points, but they’re talking about two completely different things. Social Media – which Mark Adams is dealing with – is but a small and not-terribly-well-understood piece of the online jigsaw, one that shouldn’t be ignored but, as yet, is probably not worthy of massive investment in terms of budget, time and human resource.

Dominic Chambers appears to be talking about online in its fullest sense – the corporate website, SEO, PPC, online research, online media relations (story placement, media release distribution), email marketing, online promotions and advertising – and he cited British Airways as a company which has made its website a fundamental part of its business. He suggests that online should sit with marketing and comms, with IT as a support function.

Be that as it may – they are both valid points (one on a smaller scale that the other, mind) – but they highlight a real issue which is that the social media evangelists are slowly and insidiously taking the terms ‘online’ and ‘digital’ for themselves. As they do that, so it becomes easier for those new to the disciplines to believe that you can’t have a digital strategy without some sort of social media element.

You can. Digital marketing and digital communication has been around much longer than Facebook and Twitter. A good corporate website is, arguably, one of your most powerful communications tools – with it you can build customer/stakeholder loyalty and community, engage their interest, build their trust, share their opinions and give them something in return. Permission-based marketing – via email – is ncredibly powerful. Proximity communication – via bluetooth – has novelty (still) and delivers an effect. The internet is a boon and is both cost and time efficient.

The same cannot be said – yet – for social media. It’s a shame, therefore,  that at a key event for the industry, the organisers (and the participants?) can’t seem to make the distinction. Apparently, we (the communicators) are the ones who are supposed to own digital strategy, and its subset, social media strategy. Why’s anyone going to take us seriously if we don’t understand what we’re talking about and how to differentiate the two?

Finally, who thought it was a good idea to let the editor of PRWeek (UK) publish this? As statements of the obvious go, it’s a work of genius and it will definitely get my nomination for this year’s ‘Sorry I’m Late – Have I Missed Anything?’ award. (Note to Danny – if you’re going to join a debate of this size, make sure you’ve got more than 200 words and do a bit of research first. There’s a good chap.)

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